#63. Choose a household chore or responsibility to take on without being reminded or even thanked

IDEA #63. Choose a household chore or responsibility to take on without being reminded or even thanked. This could be some form or repetitive daily drudgery—putting away the clean dishes, walking the dog, folding your own laundry—or it could be an occasional major task that you are willing to monitor and do when it needs to be done, like weeding or replacing the batteries in the smoke detectors. You could take this idea one step further and offer to do these for an elderly or infirm neighbor.

Along with making sure that needed work is done, the development of dependable habits of mind and action is a main goal of assigning household chores. Doing household work without having to be asked or without the expectation of reward is, in many families, not only an obligation of membership but also an important learning experience. If this is already the case in your home, then perhaps adding still another chore to the child’s list is unnecessary, although experience suggests that there is usually time for one more thing and also that an important alternative goal to just getting things done is simply to wean the youngster of the need to be reminded to complete the task.

Whatever chores are assigned, it is important that they be developmentally appropriate and do-able by the child, although the historical experience of farm children suggests that even eight- or nine-year-olds can accomplish almost anything with a bit of instruction. The child who invokes child labor laws as an argument against doing chores should be referred to some of the literature on young workers in nineteenth-century coal mines of factories, an instructive research project that could provide useful perspective on the relative difficulties of cleaning up one’s room or vacuuming the living room as opposed to working twelve-hour shifts underground.

The child who is already an exemplary chore-doer at home might be encouraged to find an opportunity to perform some regular household service for a neighbor or relative in need. Help of this sort is always much appreciated, and the chance to develop a new relationship is itself always a positive learning experience.

#55. Take care of an animal—as a volunteer at a zoo, an animal shelter, or a veterinarian’s office

IDEA #55. Take care of an animal—as a volunteer at a zoo, an animal shelter, or a veterinarian’s office. If you can’t find such an opportunity, put up signs offering yourself as a volunteer dog-walker or a pet-sitter for neighbors on vacation. It’s a big responsibility, though, so you must do it consistently and well.

Some children are drawn irresistibly to animals, and vice versa. For such fortunate children, service in animal care can be a natural match. What matters most of all is the ability to regularly assume responsibility for the health and welfare of other living things.

Some zoos, animal shelters, and veterinarian’s offices are happy to have volunteers who can come regularly to look after the basic needs of the animals, although there are often age limits; some clinics are uninterested in amateur help. It would be important for the young volunteer to have all inoculations up to date and of course for him or her to be able to commit to regular hours.

If making a long-term commitment to a zoo, shelter, or veterinarian is not feasible, shorter arrangements can often be made with neighbors who work or who are headed for vacation. An daily dog-walk or a week or two looking after household pets can provide owners with much-needed relief, and youngsters will enjoy building relationships with new animal friends.

Although pet-sitting and dog-walking often become paying jobs, there is no harm in the child undertaking some duties of this sort on a volunteer basis, at least as a first attempt; this might be especially true if the youngster’s reliability is not fully established. If more opportunities for this sort of work present themselves as time goes on, then it would be perfectly fine to go professional.

#49. Find a sports league for younger children in your community and offer to help officiate or coach

IDEA #49. Find a sports league for younger children in your community and offer to help officiate or coach.

If a child has any interest in sports or athletics, one way of “giving back” to a community is through participation in youth sport programs–not as an athlete but as an official or coach. Little League baseball and town soccer in many places could scarcely exist but for the participation of teenage umpires and referees, and the experience of applying rules and making those difficult judgment calls can help prepare the young official for more difficult challenges in other fields.

Officiating presupposes a solid knowledge of both the sport and its rules, and moreover most programs that use non-adult officials offer some form of training; this no doubt includes advice on how to handle the occasional obstreperous player or parent. Even so, these young officials are usually dealt with quite decently by players and onlookers, as after all their presence makes play possible. Well-run leagues will continue to provide guidance for their younger officials throughout the season.

While adult coaching is the norm in most youth sport programs, a younger and skilled “assistant coach” can be a valuable asset to a team’s training regime, running drills or working one-on-one with players on particular skills. While the student-coach does not have to be a nonpareil athlete in the sport, a good skill base and, most importantly, an understanding of how skills can be broken down for teaching are essential.

The young official or coach gains unparalleled experience in exercising judgment and leadership; the fourteen-year-old who can manage a field full of scrumming eight-year-old soccer players is probably ready for most anything. And if that fourteen-year-old can confidently call balls, strikes, and outs, he or she may be set to take on the world.

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